Old Forester Distillery Tour Review

Immerse yourself in our in-depth review of the historic Old Forester Distilling Co., located on Louisville's iconic Whiskey Row. Our review offers a detailed walkthrough of the distillery tour, from the fermentation process to the tasting of their unique bourbons. Read on to uncover the rich history and pioneering spirit of this renowned distillery.
Old Forester Distillery
119 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202
(502) 779-2222
www.oldforester.com
Tour / Review

Please enjoy our Old Forester Distillery Tour Review!

Old Forester’s Historic Return to Whiskey Row

“Home again, home again, jiggety-jig”, and it only took 100 years! Old Forester Distilling Co. (the founding brand of Brown-Forman) is finally back in its original Whiskey Row home at 119 West Main St. in Louisville, KY. This is quite a feat given the fact that, originally, the entire block of buildings had been scheduled for demolition. A fire in 2015 also threatened the distillery’s home, however Brown-Forman refused to abandon the project. At last, in June of 2018, the Old Forester Distilling Company and Visitors Center opened to the public. The space is a stylish mix of old and new. Original looking brick walls and exposed wooden beams are complimented by interior glass partitions and ample lighting. All together, they provide the perfect venue for showcasing the distillery’s beautiful 44 foot Vendome copper column still, which is uniquely located at the back of the gift shop.

Old Forester Distillery Tour Review
Touring the New Old Forester Distillery

The new home was designed with tours in mind, allowing Old Forester the capability to offer their standard distillery tour, the Old Forester Tour, every 30 minutes. Online reservations can be made, and are encouraged, so your optimal tour time can be reserved. However, walk-ins are welcome. The Old Forester Tour is $32 and begins from 10am to 4pm Tuesday – Saturday (as of December 2023). The tour last approximately 75 minutes and includes a tasting of four Old Forester whiskeys. Tours can be booked up to 3 months in advance.

The Nothing Better In The Market Tour offers an elevated experience with an exclusive tour of the Old Forester Distillery followed by a VIP tasting. The whiskeys included in the tasting are: Old Forester Single Barrel, 1910 Old Fine Whisky, and Old Forester Birthday Bourbon. This tour is offered Fridays and Saturday only, at 12:30 & 1:30pm (as of December 2023).

Various tastings are occasionally offered, often for special releases, as well as cocktail classes. Check the Old Forester website for availability.

The Old Forester Tour Experience

Visitors enter the building on the first floor where they are quickly greeted by Old Forester staff. Check in for your tour at the desk, or inquire about tour time availability if you haven’t already registered online. We had booked online, so we just had to check in.

Reception Desk - Old Forester Distillery Tour
Reception Desk – Old Forester Distillery Tour

The tour assembles at the stairs leading to the basement. Tickets are checked here and then guests proceed down to the basement where the story begins. If you’re a little early for your tour, spend some time at the display wall by the aforementioned stairs. Great old photographs and bottles are neatly displayed, as well as some early history of the brand.

Our guide, Sarah, began our tour with a history lesson. There is a considerable amount of interesting history with this brand which began back in 1870. Old Forester was the first to sell their product in glass bottles, and the first to put a seal over the top of those glass bottles. The distillery also continued its operation through prohibition, and once prohibition ended, Old Forester bourbon was left standing as the only bourbon sold by the same company before, during, and after the repeal of the 18th amendment. The company was no doubt an impressive pioneer in its earliest days.

Old Forester Tour Introduction and Brand History
Old Forester Tour Introduction and Brand History
Exploring the Fermentation Process

With some essential history covered, the tour then moves into the fermentation area. One of the interesting facets of Old Forester’s return to Whiskey Row, is that it did so without a mash cooker. According to our tour guide, Sarah, the issue was space. Instead, the mash is trucked to the distillery from the very nearby Brown-Forman Distillery in Shively, KY. In the fermentation area there are four open fermenters, each with a capacity of 4500 gallons. While the massive fermenters are indeed eye-catching, equally so are the enormous wall graphics that accompany the line of fermenters. For those visual learners, the graphics are a great method to help explain a few of the specifics of the fermentation process.

Distillation and Cooperage

After fermentation comes distillation. Next we proceed up the elevator to the second floor. It’s an engaging ride up because the elevator has a glass front and is directly behind the beautiful Big Penny. This is the distillery’s affectionate name for the previously mentioned 44 foot copper column still. It’s quite the treat to see the still in action from its top section. Immediately outside the elevator is a wall of Old Forester print ads, along with a few photos from the original time period of Old Forester’s home on Main St. A quick look here, and then it’s off around the corner to view distillation in action. On the right is the spirits safe and to the left is Big Penny.

Sarah gives a quick tutorial on distillation and then we head into a very exciting yet very unusual stop on the tour, the cooperage. Exciting, because barrel making is showcased step by step, and highly unusual as Old Forester is the only Kentucky distillery to have its own operational cooperage on site. Whether it’s proper stave selection, barrel toasting and charring, or checking the new barrel for leaks, this stop on the tour offers a rarely seen part of the bourbon making process. Yet it is the barrel that performs a most crucial role in the final product. This is a must see.

Cooperage - Old Forester Distillery Tour
Old Forester Cooperage
Barrel Charring
Barrel Charring
Barrel Aging and Bottling

Having been schooled in barrel making 101, the next stop on the tour is through the barrel aging warehouse. This eye-catching area is unique due to a slanted walkway that was built along side of the ricks. Visitors get a bird’s eye view of the barrels from beginning to end as the tour meanders down the walkway. Another rare feature, is that there are no seasonal temperatures here. The warehouse, which can house 900 barrels, is climate controlled, ranging in temperature from 65-85 degrees Fahrenheit. When at capacity, remaining barrels are aged at the Brown-Forman Distillery.

Barrel Warehouse Old Forester Distillery Tour
Barrel Warehouse – Old Forester Distillery Tour

The warehouse area wraps up with a brief discussion of the angel’s share. The final stop before the tasting, is the bottling line. With just a capacity of 2400 bottles a day, this line bottles the four different Old Forester’s Whiskey Row series bourbons. Makes perfect sense given the distillery’s return to the historic Whiskey Row. With the quick walk through the bottling line complete, the final destination is the tasting area.

Bottling Line
Bottling Line
Tasting and Wrap-up

The tasting is held in a classroom style event space. Three bourbons were offered on our tour: the Old Forester 100, the Old Forester 1910, and the Old Forester Prohibition Style 1920. Water is provided both for drinking/clearing the palate, and also in small eye dropper bottles in order to proof down each sample if desired.

With the tasting finished, the tour then disbands into the gift shop. On the way down, visitors are afforded a second good look at Big Penny. And, of course, there are ample purchase opportunities in the gift shop from bourbon to baseball caps. As a quick final note, George’s Bar is just past the front desk toward the back of the building, and can be visited for cocktails and/or tastings. It’s open to the public, whether you are taking a tour or not. Seasonal cocktails are offered as well as the opportunity to do a tasting. Hours (10am-4:30pm as of December 2023) are a little different than the distillery’s hours, so be sure to call or check online ahead of your visit.

Conclusion – Old Forester Distillery Tour Review

A tour of Old Forester is time and money well spent. From the charm of its original historic home to its carefully planned visitor experience, this newcomer to Louisville’s historic Whiskey Row hits its mark. Old Forester ensures its visitors a unique citified distillery tour. Still a pioneer after 150 years!

Old Forester Distillery Tour - Sign

We hope you have enjoyed our Old Forester Distillery Tour Review! Would you like to learn more about some of Old Forester’s Whiskey Row bourbons? Then check out our Old Forester 1910 Bourbon Review and our Old Forester 1920 Bourbon Review!

Initial visit: November 2019. Updated December 2023.

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